At New Tolerance, we are always happy to end a campaign quickly because the subject of one of our activism projects chooses to do the right thing. That’s what happened this week with actor and media personality Nick Cannon. After a wide variety of people spoke up and mainstream institutions asserted their influence the right way, basic decency emerged and Cannon avoided being ‘canceled’ (although that’s not to say that he didn’t face consequences).
Recently, Cannon espoused a wide variety of anti-Semitic statements on his podcast, ranging from denying historical facts about Jewish identity to pushing long-debunked conspiracy theories about outsized Jewish influence. He also praised Louis Farrakhan, a noted anti-Semite who has referred to Jews as “termites” and leads the Nation of Islam, which has been labeled anti-Semitic by organizations across the political spectrum.
When people noticed and became outraged by his comments, Cannon initially didn’t show a hint of remorse. He said he was willing to be convinced he was wrong, but refused to apologize or acknowledge the anti-Semitic nature of his beliefs.
Within just a few days of the outrage beginning, ViacomCBS dropped him, and many people began to speculate that Fox might replace him as host for the next season of The Masked Singer. At this time, New Tolerance launched a petition calling on Cannon to proactively take steps to learn the truth about the objectively hateful and objectively false ideas he was so enthusiastically spreading.
Less than a day later, Cannon changed his tune. He apologized, deleted the offensive content, and tweeted “[my words] reinforced the worst stereotypes of a proud and magnificent people and I feel ashamed of the uninformed and naïve place that these words came from.” He has since announced that he plans to take a break from his radio show to give himself more time to educate himself and is even planning a trip to Israel.
Cannon expressed several times that many people from the Jewish community reached out to him, not to condemn him, but to openly and constructively give him the facts and share their perspectives. He credits these people for his change of heart.
While we strongly applaud those who reached out in friendship to share the truth, Viacom was clearly part of the wake-up call, and unnamed sources claim that Fox pushed for the apology behind the scenes. In a Facebook post, Cannon angrily recounted everything he’s accomplished for Viacom over the last 20 years, and it is indeed an impressive list. Viacom’s choice may hurt their bottom line, but they made it clear that they would not be an enabler of someone who spreads hate and malicious misinformation. And they made this choice only after Cannon initially said he would not apologize.
We have a ‘cancel culture’ problem today in which people seek to punish instead of correct. This culture of death-by-social media-mob increases division and animosity when genuine desires for a better world quickly sour into a thirst for revenge.
NTC, nor Viacom, looked to cancel Nick Cannon as a person. Rather, the actions both undertook aimed at canceling anti-Semitism after Cannon’s initial reaction contributed to more, not less, racism. Cannon’s (eventual) constructive response demonstrates that when society responds to hate-filled situations like this one in measured and principled ways, we leave the door open for critical reform.
Nick Cannon now has a unique platform to share what he’s learning and contribute to the effort to eliminate anti-Semitism. Make it count, Nick! You’ve got work to do, but we’re rooting for you.